Like Baltimore’s Jim Clack before him, the newly announced chief of the DC Fire & EMS Department is making his presence known on the often rough and tumble fire service forum thewatchdesk.com(TWD). Kennth Ellerbe, currently the chief in Sarasota County, Florida and who was on the DC department for 27 years, has posted on the forum 69 times since May of 2004. He uses the screen name Kenzin. But the three most recent messages came today, after being announced yesterday as Mayor-elect Vincent Gray’s choice to be the next fire and EMS chief for the Nation’s Capital.
Chief Ellerbe is already dealing with some controversy about a tax credit on his DC home and a special employment agreement that was made and rescinded when he took the job in Florida last year. He addressed those issues at yesterday’s press conference (see the video above).
On TWD he is directly addressing some of those who have posted critical comments about Gray’s choice to run the department (there are some similar comments on this forum). Among them Janet Wilmoth, who is the editorial director at Fire Chief Publications. Tonight Chief Ellerbe shared with TWD readers his response to Wilmoth’s blog posting yesterday that strongly questioned the appointment. Here is part of what Chief Ellerbe wrote (click here to read the entire message):
This is one of my responses to Ms. Wilmoth. I’d suggest temperance in responding to her and not over-reacting to what she wrote. Give her a chance to do some homework and repost.
I responded to your post earlier but don’t see it on your site, so I’ll repost as it may have gotten ‘lost in the mail.’
Quite frankly, I am surprised at the comments that you have published throughout the country. We don’t know each other, so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you may be reacting or responding to what you have read or heard from tertiary sources. I would strongly suggest that you contact Dr. Steven Newman, Medical Director for Sarasota County Fire and EMS to determine if your comments were warranted. Your unprecedented attack on me reflects negatively not just on me. Your comments may have a negative impact on the entire department that I represent and I must calmly object to your post. You have a large readership and are well-respected in our industry. Nothing can tear a person’s integrity apart quicker than speaking as an authority without the benefit of careful research.
OK, everybody, relax. Most of you from DCFEMS know who I am because I identified myself long ago. I don’t hide behind my screen name. I can say this; there will be some changes. I’m going on record now so that if what I promise doesn’t happen, any of you can feel free to call me out on it. The changes that I can guarantee will be: transparency-we will operate out in the open for all to see and agree with or criticize freely; fairness-everyone will be treated fairly and anyone who doesn’t think that they can treat people fairly should be looking for another place of employment; accountability-everyone must be accountable, especially me. We will all be operating under a microscope and it’s part of my job to ensure that we do our jobs effectively and efficiently. I can’t do that without the full cooperation of every member. I don’t expect people to go blindly into the future. You have the right to question (as long as it isn’t in a life or death situation) and you have the right to criticize if you feel that bad decisions are made. Offering criticism or alternative solutions to challenges should not, and will not result in retaliatory responses.
I will not respond to, or participate in rumors, slanderous conversations or silliness. I have no intention of being ‘baited’ into any confrontational posts, nor do I take a lot of this stuff too seriously. This is a place where people ‘vent’, cheer or blow off steam, so have at it.
For those who would comfortably and anonymously post, feel free as well.
Regarding vindictiveness, be careful about making assumptions or accepting someone else’s version of the truth. First, let’s define vindictive…”disposed or inclined to revenge.” Revenge would imply that someone was trying to get even with someone else for a previous offense. In order to be vindictive, a person has to be harmed, or perceive that they have been harmed. Only one person that I know of has tried to harm me, and the truth is, they have to live with that, not me. I wasn’t injured and actually came out OK, regardless of the lies that were told, the character assasination that occurred and the mean-spirited actions that were taken. There may be others who may mean to do me harm, but they hide in the shadows and we don’t have time to go peeking around corners and looking over our shoulders, stalking ghosts. We have work to do and there is plenty to go around. WE have a charge to make this department a model for everyone to marvel at with no time to waste. It is my hope that we will all move forward without so much as a backward glance at the minor insults that we might have endured and decide one and all to make the people we represent and serve proud, safe, and comfortable in knowing that if they call, we’ll be there to serve and protect.
I won’t be doing a lot of posting but I am hopeful that we will all get along, reduce the bickering for all the world to see and make the people who know that you work here happy to say that my friend or family member works for DCFEMS.
This afternoon the chief was on TWD with a reply to someone who posts using the name “Truth”. Earlier “Truth” expressed unhappiness with the way Chief Ellerbe ran the department when he was interim chief for three months in 2000. Here’s the exchange:
TRUTH: As I said Chief, I hope I am wrong in my opinion. Either way, congrats on coming back. You definiatley have some challenges ahead
KENZIN: Truth, You entitled to your opinion, which I differ with considerably, but it’s your opinion. Maybe, in time, your opinion will change. Keep a watchful eye, as many will do. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised. Take care.
Baltimore’s Chief Clack spent 16 months conversing with mostly anonymous firefighters on the Baltimore City section of TWD. Like Chief Ellerbe, Chief Clack started the conversation before he took office. In July, 2009, Clack made it clear why he was giving up this method of communications, writing in his final post, ” … some folks use their ability to be anonymous on this board as a license to be rude, obnoxious, defamatory and even openly racist”.
Many will form an impression of us as a professional public safety agency by what they read here. I have a pretty high tolerance for foolishness, but I feel that this forum is not healthy for me personally, for the members of this department who read this stuff even for the people who don’t work here. The Baltimore City Fire Department is full of dedicated heroes who put their lives on the line every shift. They deserve better.
Personally, I admired Chief Clack for even making the effort and then sticking with it for as long as he did. It’s a bold and intriguing way to communicate with those who work for you, including a great many who are unhappy either with your leadership, the department or both.
It fits with the important concept of communicating directly with your stakeholders. But it’s also akin to constantly throwing yourself into the lion’s den. Any Internet forum, including this one, can be brutal to a public figure and/or to other people posting. The anonymity emboldens people. I think adding blunt firefighters to that mix can take it to an extreme. Chief Clack took the abuse for quite a while, often responding with a self depracating sense of humor (seems to work well in this arena) as he tried to focus on the issues rather than personalities.
I have no idea if Chief Ellerbe plans to continue posting on TWD. But any leader who takes this step and debates their employees in an open and anonymous forum needs to keep in mind some basic truths of life on TWD and similar venues. Check your ego at the door, don’t ever be defensive and never take it personally. It’s just like the firehouse. Once they smell blood and sense they can get to you, it’s all over.
Also on STATter911 …
- Fells Point fallout: With closings looming Baltimore firefighter comments about two hatters coming into city during five-alarm fire makes news. – June 15, 2012
- Raw video & raw feelings: New video from the PA tanker fire that fueled many comments & the ire of the videographer. – September 3, 2012
- A bizarre DC update: Ellerbe wanted Rubin’s ‘head on a stick’. The Rube finally uses Ellerbe’s name and he gets back-up from his own arch-enemy. Oh yes, and there is some real news. – August 17, 2013
- UPDATED: Baltimore City Fire Department Chief Jim Clack resigns. Read his message to the department. – June 7, 2013
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